Relevancy of design. Part IV: Education

A Four Part Series. Part IV.How many designers have returned to the office from a meeting with the deflated statement, “Everyone in the room was a designer”? And how many times have designers heard from clients, “Design is fun”? Yes, design is fun. Design also entails hard work and late nights, and more often than not, it is practiced by well-educated, passionate professionals.These professionals love and live design in everything they do. It’s fun, it’s difficult, it’s satisfying and its relevancy is threatened by the unskilled professional and human-centered design being misused by corporations. For the field of design to remain relevant and valuable in the next decade, it must develop a standard of expected skills and roles, consistent design language, code of ethics and produce well-rounded intellects and talent from undergraduate design programs.

June 7, 2022


Design education

Relevancy of design. Part IV: Education

For design to remain relevant into the future, design schools must produce graduates who have a thorough design education, include subjects outside of design, promote “thinking” as well as craft and encourage life-long curiosity or self-learning. The designer’s contact with clients constitutes the need to be at most, an expert, or at least interested in a multitude of industries and topics. All design education should offer design theory and design history, as well as design courses. Through design history, the designer can learn to reference the past, understand style, social movements, how culture shapes design and how design shapes culture. Theory classes bring new meaning through the introduction of communication and learning models, context and semiotics. This type of education separates the design professional from the amateur. The latter will think in terms of individual components or products (typefaces and brochures), whereas the former will think higher on the J. Christopher Jones’ scale of Hierarchy of Design Problems to systems and communities (interdependent products and interdependent systems) (Davis 59).

Through mandating classes outside of design craft, a design school can produce well-rounded intellectuals. These can be science, literature, history or a multitude of relevant classes that expose the student to a range of subjects that are meaningful beyond the general requirements of a liberal arts education. Design schools need to ensure that the young designer is not only learning a craft and taking required courses for a degree, but also learning how to think and be a perpetual learner. Juliette Cezzar, professor at The New School’s Parsons School of Design describes this as a  “self-learner”—someone who is comfortable, being uncomfortable, while they learn something new (Morley). The best design projects are produced when the designer is highly engaged. This level of engagement comes from a thorough understanding of the project, authentic interest and the ability to be a self-learner. The toughest hurdle to the relevancy of design into the future may be placed on the educator to create: the forever-curious learner, an interest and usage of design language, a willingness to be ethically brave, and patience to climb the design profession ladder. This hurdle may be better overcome through the rigorous vetting of the students accepted to design programs, than through the students graduated.


Now imagine attending a design presentation where the designer’s title matches their experience, skills and the expectations of the client. Imagine as the designer presents, they are using a common design language that elevates the field of design, clarifies conversations and educates the client. The client is from an entity that is promoting humanity in their products and communications to the world. The designer is engaged in the subject matter and “thinking.” The work of design is fun, difficult, satisfying and worthy of protection into the future by those who love it. The development of a standard of skills and roles, a design language, defined ethics and well-rounded intellects and talent from undergraduate design programs will prepare the field of design to be challenge-ready and relevant into the future.

Works Cited

Bierut, Michael. Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design. New York, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.

Brown, Tim. “Design Thinking. A Lesson in Empathy.” Design Thinking, 13 March 2013,

Davis, Meredith. Graphic Design Theory. London: Thames & Hudson, 2012.

“Episode 67: Guns N’ Tote Bags.” The Observatory from The Design Observer, 13 Oct. 2017,

Glaser, Milton. “Ten Things I have Learned.”, Accessed 4 Nov. 2017.

Golsby-Smith, Tony. “Fourth Order Design: A Practical Perspective,” Design Issues, Volume 12,
Number 1, Spring, 1996. Cambridge: MA, MIT Press.

“Good Design Is Good Business.” IBM, Accessed 28 Oct. 2017.

Helfand, Jessica. Design: The Invention of Desire. Yale University Press, 2016.

Kelley, David and Tom Kelley. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. New York: Crown Business. 2013.

Lupton, Ellen. “The D.I.Y. Debate.”, 24 January 2016,

“Massimo Vignelli (1931-2014).”, Accessed 4 Nov. 2017.

Meggs, Philip B. and Alston W. Purvis. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. Hoboken, N.J: J. Wiley & Sons, 2006.

Meyer, Kate. “How Chunking Helps Content Processing.” Nielsen Norman Group, 20 March 2016,

“Michael Bierut: Trends in Design.” Design Thinking Foundations, Accessed 4 Nov. 2017.

Morley, Madeleine. “Juliette Cezzar’s Refreshingly Honest and Supremely Helpful Guide to Design Education.”, Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.

Norman, Don. “Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful.”, Accessed 4 Nov. 2017.

Roberts, Caroline. Graphic Design Visionaries. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2015.

“The 2018 Salary Guide.”, Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.

“What is Human-Centered Design?” Design Kit, Accessed 25 Oct. 2017.

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